Sheffy George

Sheffy George : In Conversation With A Cinematographer

As a child what were your early influences towards cinema?
Ans: Most of my childhood was spent playing sports with friends whenever there was any free time available. But one of the earliest cinematic influences in my childhood was watching Malayalam films as a family on Sunday afternoons on television. I developed a love for Malayalam films in the 80s and 90s thanks to my parents.

How did you first become interested in cinematography? Did you start with photography?
I’ve had quite an unusual and interesting journey to reach where I have. I graduated in IT and worked in the corporate world for five years before I decided to get into filmmaking. The first 6 years were spent primarily in Direction where I worked as Ms Kiran Rao’s Assistant during the making of Dhobi Ghat, then moving on to working as an Assistant Director, Director and Producer across various formats. During the course of my journey, I organically began gravitating towards the imagery and started developing a liking towards Cinematography. After a couple of years of contemplation, in 2016, I finally decided to take a sabbatical and enrol for a six-months’ course in Cinematography at renowned Director/DoP Rajeev Menon’s Mindscreen Film Institute, Chennai. My father had a Yashica film camera and used to enjoy taking photographs of the family and saving the developed images in physical albums. I remember experimenting on his camera a bit back in the day. Subconsciously, that must have had an influence on my journey. I then got myself a Nikon digital SLR before joining my course.

What steps did you take to train yourself?
So, as mentioned above, informal training by my father on how to operate an SLR when i was a teenager was the starting point. Being on set in various capacities definitely helped as you could see witness, first-hand, the processes of various DPs. Then the formal training at Mindscreen Film Institute helped as we had a sound technical and artistic faculty. More than the theoretical training, it’s important to get hands-on practical training and practice in lighting and operating a camera – be it hand-held, on a tripod, trying to manoeuvre a 180-360 pan or working on a Panther Dolly and crane – which we did at the institute. Watching films and reading up on cinema is something that is a life-long companion. Having conversations with peers and seniors in the industry always helps. While doing small, independent gigs, I also assisted a couple of renowned DoPs, which gave me a new perspective on Cinematography. These are some of the things that helped me in my journey till now.

Have you assisted anyone? How does it help one?
Yes, I have assisted a couple of well-known DoPs on feature films, web series, ad films and music videos. It definitely helps when you’re on set in the midst of all the action, knowing the innumerable decisions a DoP has to take in a given time, how they handle every director, the way they work with producers, how they light up a set, what motivates their camera movements and shot-taking, how they get the best artistic output in spite of the various pressures on them at any given point of time, how a deep understanding of the post-production process decides the shooting procedure and many-a-times saves costs and time on set. Every person’s journey is different. It helps to absorb their experience and apply it in the best possible manner in your journey.

How did your first film project come about?
Through sheer networking. I come from a non-filmy background and am perhaps the only one in my family in this profession. When you don’t know anyone, you just have to go through the grind. I got my first opportunity to work with Ms Kiran Rao because I reached out to Advait Chandan, who was known to my mother since she had taught him in school and who was, at that time, the First AD on Dhobi Ghat. Thereafter, you just have to go about being your own manager, agent, promoter and reaching out to people. Making calls, dropping messages and mails, sharing my work links and profile, giving the confidence to people that I can do justice to their projects is the way I’ve gone about my work. I am an extremely shy, introverted individual, who doesn’t talk much or say all the right things to those who matter. So, for a person like me, the journey is just that much harder. But if a hermit like me can survive so far, I’m sure there’s hope for countless others like me.

What is perhaps the most important factor for you to choose a script?
Honestly speaking, I have yet to reach a stage where I get to pick and choose the projects I would like to work on. I take up whatever comes my way and try to do justice to the script in my own way.

Is cinematography intuitive or is it something you learn?
I think it’s a mix of both for me. I’ve changed so much as a person over the years simply because I was keen on learning, growing and adapting to situations. That, I believe is a prerequisite to stay relevant in any profession or vocation. Cinematography is no different. Every experience in life stays in the subconscious, which makes its way in your art and craft sometime or the other.

Tell us something bout your latest film.
In the last one year I’ve assisted DoP Vivek Shah on Love Hostel, a Hindi feature film directed by Shanker Raman and co-produced by Red Chillies Entertainment and Drishyam Films and Blood (working title), a web series for Hotstar, produced by Reliance Entertainment. As of February 25th, 2022, Love Hostel is available on the OTT platform, Zee5, while Blood should be out on Hotstar before the year end. I’ve had an incredibly enriching and amazing experience on both these projects, assisting Vivek, who is an artist extraordinaire.

Where do you seek inspiration from?
Life, books, films. Just about everywhere. You only have to look around yourself to find inspiration.

What is in the kitty right now?
I just finished shooting with Virat Kohli for Puma and Ocean One8’s digital campaigns after spending a week in my hotel room with no access to the outside world as part of the BCCI’s strict bio bubble arrangements. It was a great experience working with somebody of his stature and demeanour.

What’s your dream project?
A dream project would be one where I am not restricted with severe budgetary constraints in terms of lighting and camera equipments.

Your most memorable blunder?
When my AC cum focus puller cum camera operator, who was operating the second camera, shot everything out of focus while shooting an interview. I realised the blunder when I was watching the rushes at the end of the shoot.

Any advice to the inspiring cinematographers?
Just go out there, explore and express yourselves. Respect your crew members, no matter what their position in the hierarchy. Be humble and open to suggestions and feedback. Always remember that filmmaking is a collaborative process. Be efficient at communicating so that the crew is on the same page when it comes to expectations.

What book, music, movie are you enjoying right now?
I’m currently watching the latest series of ‘Marvellous Mrs Maisel’ and ‘Ozark’. I’m reading ‘Diary of a young girl’ by Anne Frank.

Sheffy’s IMDB Profile.

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